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Extravasation Injury from Medical Malpractice

What is An Extravasation Injury?

Individuals who are treated & released or admitted to hospitals often require intravenous (IV) lines which drip medicines into a patient's bloodstream. Sometimes due to medical negligence on the part of the practitioner who inserts the IV line the line does not go into the vein or falls out of the vein. This allows the medicine to flow into the soft tissues of the arm, elbow, and surrounding areas. Depending on the type of medicine, this can cause severe burns, disfigurement, and painful scarring.

What injuries can extravasation cause?

Known as extravasation or infiltration, this condition should be immediately identified and fixed. This will prevent damage to the soft tissues, muscles, nerves, and ligaments. Injuries can range from blisters to cell or tissue death and in severe cases injuries can require reconstructive surgery or lead to amputation. Common injuries are as follows:

  • scarring
  • disfigurement
  • muscle damage
  • nerve damage
  • blisters
  • may require amputation
  • compartment syndrome
  • may require plastic surgery and or debridement

With IV infiltration, it is of utmost importance and urgency that the nurses discovery and remedy the condition as soon as possible. The leakage of medications can cause irreparable damage. Further, the patient is not receiving the needed IV medications to the bloodstream via the veins which can cause other medical complications.

Chemotherapy drugs are particularly toxic. One example is doxorubicin (Doxil, Adriamycin). Doxorubicin can remain in the tissues for an extensive period of time; side effects may not present immediately. Severe skin ulcers are a common side effect of these medications that can require skin grafts and plastic surgery

Epidurals or intrathecal drug given directly into the spinal cord can lead to death or permanent disability. For example

  • Morphine,
  • Vincristine (a chemotherapy agent)
  • Ad Bupivacaine (numbing medication)

These drugs have many reports of wrongful administration to the spinal cord leading to fatal or near death incidents. 

How are extravasation injuries caused?

Extravasation can be a complication that is nobody's fault.  However, it can also be caused by human error. To ensure that the standard of care is given to every IV patient, the doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals at the facility should be fully trained on policies, procedures, and protocols on how to use a catheter to deliver fluids and medications effectively.

Without proper training, IV therapy accidents are usually caused by negligence or medical malpractice that could produce devastating lifelong consequences. In addition, any injury to the skin and surrounding tissue can cause significant health issues that must be addressed appropriately by skilled medical professionals. 

If you feel that your treatment involved one of these errors you might be entitled to some compensation:

  • The device that administers the medicine was not secured properly
  • The device was the incorrect size
  • The device was placed on an instable area and became loose or dislodged
  • A needle punctured the vein causing the medicine to spread into the surrounding tissue
  • The same vein was used multiple times, and was too weak
  • Young patients are at risk because they have small veins and so a surgeon needs to compensate for this
  • Older patients are at risk because their veins may be more fragile

Signs and symptoms of extravasation injuries

Symptoms of an extravasation injury can include:

  • Coolness or blanching at the medicine insertion site
  • Swelling
  • Tenderness/discomfort
  • Taut or stretched skin
  • Leakage of fluid at the insertion site
  • Inability to obtain blood return (not always present)
  • Change in quality and flow of the infusion or injection
  • Numbness, tingling or a pins and needles feeling
  • Burning, stinging pain
  • Redness may occur followed by blistering, tissue necrosis and ulceration

Treatment of these injuries should be emergent as “time is of the essence” and any delay in the identification and treatment can lead to unwanted complications. Hence, all suspected extravasation injuries are medical emergencies and should be approached in a systematic and logical manner with ultimate aim of minimizing the extent of damage.

How is Extravasation Treated?

How medical professionals try to heal an extravasation injury depends upon when it is discovered. First, the professional stops the drug treatments that are occurring to help and limit the amount of damage caused by the error. Tape and other items accompanying the IV catheter are then removed and emergency management procedures are implemented. The location can be aspirated and then cleaning and draining the tissues around the site can occur. In some cases, the limbs are elevated over the height of the heart to assist this. In other situations, surgery is needed to clean out the injury site. Sometimes cold packs are used to reduce pain. Whether or not cold packs are used will largely depend upon the type of drug that caused the extravasation injury. In other situations, antidotes to the chemical drug are given.

Treatment can be and include the following:

  1. Surgery
  2. Skin grafts
  3. Amputation
  4. Burn-like treatments

Do I need a lawyer?

Most victims who have suffered a severe case of IV infiltration can seek monetary compensation through medical malpractice claims or lawsuits to hold those negligent accountable for their actions. Skilled attorneys can build a strong case, proving negligence when the patient suffers severe medical complications caused by inadequate monitoring, improper placement, defective small catheter needle, or IV complications. Our team are experienced in assessing cases, establishing a clear path forwards, accessing ongoing medical support and successfully proceeding with medical negligence claims. Strict time limits apply to injury claims so if you think you may have suffered injury due to extravasation, please get in touch.